Tag Archives: resurrection

The Urgent Message

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

(Mark 16:6-7 NRSV)

 

The Gospel of Mark is both the shortest and the earliest of the stories of the Life of Jesus in the Bible. It has often been referred to as an “extended passion narrative,” meaning that the author has devoted a good portion of the gospel to reflection on the events leading up to that first Easter. By contrast he seems to have very little to say about what happened after Jesus rose.

Matthew’s Gospel completes the story of Jesus’ earthly mission by sending out his disciples to carry on his work – to teach, to baptise and to make new disciples in every nation. And the Gospels of Luke and John both have considerable details of the risen Lord and his encounter with the disciples – Luke’s account continuing into the Acts of the Apostles and the writings of Paul.

But Mark’s gospel leaves us in a strange place, and this is partly because we don’t know if verses 9 to 20 of the last chapter of the gospel were written by the author, or added later as a summary by someone else.

The reason we don’t know is that these 12 verses do not appear in some of the earliest manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel. They are completely missing. For some Biblical scholars, they have all the appearance of a summary added by someone else to tidy up Mark’s messy ending.

That’s why many translations of the Bible put those verses in brackets or as a footnote to the Gospel. We don’t know their provenance for certain; you must decide for yourself.

What we do know and what really matters is that the resurrection of Jesus is proclaimed without any ambiguity and uncertainly – Jesus is risen and that, given the somewhat terse writing style of the author, may be all he wants his readers to grasp.

Christ is risen, Mark tells us. Christ is risen, Matthew, Luke and John tell us. Christ is risen, proclaims Paul to all who will listen – and that is what really matters.

Two things follow from the acceptance of this truth. Firstly, we are directed to the identity of Jesus: The Messiah, the Son of God, the Word incarnate – the very presence of all that God is, in human form.

Secondly, we who call ourselves Christians are both challenged and commissioned. We are challenged to do our utmost to live our lives according to the teachings of Jesus – specifically to live lives of love for God and love for those around us. We are called to explore the scriptures to learn and discern God’s purposes for our lives, in Christ. And we are commissioned to share what we know with others, and to encourage, others by our best example, to see the importance of Christ for their lives, too.

To put it simply: Mark’s Gospel proclaims the risen Christ. His proclamation is urgent and brief with the clear intention to encourage others to do the same.

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Accomplished

A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
(John 19:29-30 NRSV)

It is finished. It is all accomplished.

The death of Jesus on the cross is not a failure, but a resounding success. He has done all he has come to do.

He has lived, he has taught, he has healed, he has overcome temptation, he has borne the sin of humanity, he has forgiven, he has offered himself up once and for all.

That is why we may call it Good Friday; because through it the slate is wiped clean and humanity is redeemed.

Through the life and death of Jesus the eternal Kingdom of God is inaugurated for our place and time, and its servant King has been crowned.

But this is not the end of the story, merely the end of a chapter; for soon there will be a rising, a new creation, a new exodus, a new dawn; the dawn of a new adventure which thunders down the ages to our time – an adventure in which we may take part.

Prayer
Lord Jesus,
we have remembered the agony of your Cross.
Through it we have seen your love
and known your saving grace.
May its power guide and strengthen us throughout our lives,
and point us always to the gateway of the Kingdom;
for your Holy name’s sake.
Amen

A Friend on the Journey

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
(Luke 24:30-31 NRSV)

I must admit that my favourite story about Jesus, from the time after he had risen, is the account of the “Walk to Emmaus” from Luke’s Gospel.

It is Easter Day and two of Jesus’ bewildered disciples are taking the afternoon walk from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus when a stranger joins them. Luke informs the reader that the stranger is the risen Jesus, but his friends don’t recognise him.

As he walks with them he lifts their hearts with his explanation of why all these things had taken place. When they get to their destination it is dusk so they invite the stranger in to eat with them.

As they recognise him in the blessing and breaking of bread, they are astonished but, even as he disappears from them, they suddenly understand the depth of meaning in their encounter. Hearts ablaze with joy and enthusiasm, they ignore the dangers of a night-time journey and rush back to Jerusalem to tell their friends.

Jesus’ friends had thought that it had all gone horribly wrong for them; that all in which they had put their hope and trust had turned to dust; had been an illusion. Even as reports of Jesus’ resurrection began to emerge some of them (quite understandably!) struggled to take it in.

The encounter with the risen Christ changed that.

We have the benefit of the New Testament to explain this to us, and many have encountered the risen Christ starting with a tentative exploration of the Gospels.

But Luke, in his vivid account, gives us another clue. It was in the breaking of bread that his friends recognised Jesus with them; and for twenty centuries countless worshippers have discovered the same.

There are several names for it and numerous ways to understand it, but it remains true that many continue to find strength, inner healing, peace, forgiveness, renewal, enthusiasm, commitment and a deep sense of relationship with Jesus through worship which includes the breaking of bread.

Jesus,
Set my heart ablaze with love for you
and my neighbour.
Guide me to your truth
and enthuse me by your Spirit.
Amen.

The Power of the Cross

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
(John 19:30 NRSV)

Why is the cross such a powerful symbol?

Some see the cross and it lifts their spirits or offers them hope. Others despise it and all that they see it standing for. Whichever way, the cross tends to evoke quite a strong response. I remember, many years ago now, seeing a letter in a journal from someone who was complaining because she had sat a university examination in a church which had been converted for the occasion. She felt that being surrounded by crosses was quite “creepy.”

But for Christians the cross is the ultimate symbol of Jesus Christ. It speaks of humanity’s reconciliation with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Some will look at the cross and see God’s forgiveness in the sacrifice of his sinless Son for the sins of the whole world, for all time.

Others will look upon the image of Christ crucified and see him bearing our burdens, standing with us in our darkest moments: God knows your pain because he has endured it.

Many will see, in the empty cross of Easter Day, the mighty power of God at work in the resurrection of Jesus.

For me, the cross is the symbol of God’s overwhelming love. It was not inevitable, though Jesus knew it would happen. He could have walked away from it at any time but he chose to accept it, such was his love.

There, on the cross, we witness pure, divine, self-emptying, subversive love facing the evil that the world can throw at it. From the cross, Christ looks at me (and you) and the look says, “I did this for you.”

And the world is changed, because ultimately (and despite what we may see around us) evil has no voice when confronted by such powerful love. That love has conquered even death itself.

The cross is, for good or ill, many things to many people; but despite the fact that it has been a much abused and misused symbol it is supremely the symbol of God’s love for his world.

Jesus,
Your cross evokes many layers of meaning,
but I thank you
that it is, first and foremost,
the symbol of love.
Amen.

Risen?

He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
(Matthew 28:6 NRSV)

The story of the resurrection of Jesus – his rising from the dead following his execution on the cross – was, is and will always remain the most controversial aspect of the Christian faith. That is inevitably true because so much hinges on it. All four gospel writers, writing to diverse communities at different times, agree that it is the climax of their message.

Think about it for a moment. If Jesus’ death was the end of his story, then history might possibly record him as a great teacher, perhaps a gifted healer, a man of wisdom or a radical philosopher. Equally however, he might have become known merely as a failed revolutionary. More likely we would never have even heard of him.

On the other hand, if Jesus did rise then all that he said and did during the time he walked the dusty roads of Galilee and Judaea is validated: shown to be true. Jesus is the human face of God, including all that goes along with that statement.

If Jesus did rise, then the Kingdom of God is real, and not just optimistic thinking in the hearts of those who yearn for a better world.

If Jesus did rise then the costly, forgiving, empathising, self-emptying love he proclaimed really is the key to this world’s healing.

If Jesus did rise, then God really does love the world – all of creation.

Let’s be clear. The people of Jesus’ time knew death when they saw it. They lived with it much more closely than most of us ever do. Life was short and brutal, burdened by the whims of despotic rulers and ravaged by disease and abject poverty. Death was ever near.

His friends knew that he had died that Friday afternoon, and they were (to say the least) utterly shocked when they witnessed him risen.

In addition, many of his followers went to their deaths proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection. No sane person lays their life down for a myth. Yes, we must acknowledge that his close followers and friends were frail human beings like you and me, but it is unreasonable to believe that so many of his close friends could have been deluded in what they experienced.

Jesus rose, the Kingdom is founded, love reigns supreme.

Stop now, and think about that.

Jesus,
show me the truth
and the meaning
of your resurrection
for me,
for those I love,
for those I struggle with,
for those I don’t know,
for your world,
for eternity.
Amen.

The Cost of Love

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

(John 12:1-8 NRSV)

This passage from John’s gospel is full of dark omens for the coming days for Jesus and his friends. It is full of double meanings, it speaks of cost and hypocrisy. There is accusation and anger. There is fear and self justification. And, intriguingly, there is also a hint about resurrection.

Jesus is at the home of his old friends Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. At least some of the disciples were there with him. They live in the village of Bethany which is a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem on the road into town by way of the mount of olives. The name “beth – ani” means something like “place of the poor” or “house of the afflicted” and it may well be that which Jesus is talking about when he stops Judas in his tracks, saying “You will always have the poor with you”.

In John’s gospel the scene is a dinner party with Jesus as the guest of honour. As usual, Martha is doing the practical stuff – cooking and waiting on the table – seeing to the physical needs of her guests, whilst Mary appears to be otherwise engaged.

Lazarus is eating at the table with them. This is “gospel speak” for saying that Lazarus is truly alive. When Jesus brought him back to life, as he had done in an earlier part of the Gospel, it was not a “conjuring trick”, not an illusion. He was there, fully fit and well, and eating with them. John wants us to be clear on that.

And in comes Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, with a large quantity of some of the most expensive perfume you can imagine. Nard is a very costly perfumed ointment made from the roots of a plant found in India, which would have had to have been imported most probably by camel along the ancient trade routes which ran between India and the Middle East. It would have been phenomenally expensive. This is not your average Eau de Cologne; this stuff would cost a working man a year’s wages. Nard was the perfume of palaces and princesses – Mary’s gesture was hugely extravagant. And in John’s account this gives Judas all the opportunity he needs to lash out, to condemn, to point the accusing finger: at Mary and, by implication, at Jesus.

But as we’ve seen, Jesus stops him in his tracks. John, in his gospel account, has set the scene for the climactic events of holy week, the week leading up to Good Friday and Easter. We learn that Jesus is to be betrayed – and all the high minded protestation about giving to the poor, all the deflected anger and self-righteous indignation in the world cannot cover the fact that Jesus is to be betrayed to his death.

We learn that love costs – it costs dearly. And, as many have found, an act of selfless love may bring criticism and even ridicule. We will come to learn that love will cost Jesus his all – and the ridicule will fall upon him too.

But also, tucked away in that little passage in John’s gospel, is the truth that resurrection is real. In the chronology of events we haven’t got to Easter Sunday yet, but amidst the gathering gloom there is hope – not merely wishful thinking – but the certainty of things yet to be revealed.

Love costs. Forgiveness costs – always. The greatest act of devotion can bring about scorn and ridicule. But the Christian hope – the certainty of things yet to be revealed – rests upon the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.

Corpus Christi

Body of Christ, born for me,
you validate my being,
stamp my humanity with your divine presence.
Love of God come down to earth,
incarnate word: you know me, you show me,
you make me who I am.
Keep me in eternal life.

Body of Christ, broken for me,
you weep through my tears,
know my scars and understand my failings.
Son of God, victim King,
innocent lover: you heal me, you build me,
you give me the chance to be.
Keep me in eternal life.

Body of Christ, risen for me,
you make me dance with life,
on the grave of all that would destroy me.
Risen Lord, triumphant God,
conqueror: you renew me, you transform me,
you resurrect my very soul.
Keep me in eternal life.

Body of Christ, ascended for me,
you cause me to fly with you,
despite my earthbound desires.
Glorified Messiah,
Lord of Lords: you take my flesh, all that I am,
before the throne of Grace.
Keep me in eternal life.

Nigel Carter

Morning

Yes, here we are. This was the spot. Just here. In fact – look, there’s the stone lying on the ground. Do you remember, Mary?

This was the very spot where we thought it had all ended. But in fact this was where it had only just begun. Only a year or two back, but it might as well have been an age. So much has happened since then.

Yes, it was about this time wasn’t it? Around about dawn. Yes, me too. I love an early morning walk in the garden. The air is so fresh, so new and, in a funny sort of way, full of hope for the coming day. Don’t you think so too?

What do you mean, “I’m just an old romantic”? And a bit less of the “old” while we’re about it.

You know, I’ll never forget your face when you came and told us that the tomb was empty. When you and the other women came rushing back to the house we couldn’t make head or tail of what you were saying. So I said to myself, “I’ll go and see what this is all about”

So I did – and you remember the look on my face, too, don’t you?

What an amazing moment.

Suddenly, all that he had done made sense. His teaching, his healing, his conflicts and even the parties, (not to mention that look that was always in his eyes) – they all made sense. Even death on a cross made sense.

Amazing, amazing, amazing. God so loved the world, that he sent his only son – not to be our judge – but to be our saviour. And the empty cross, and the empty tomb – they are just the most powerful symbols of God’s love. I – I still struggle to take it all in.

Come on Mary, take my arm and let’s walk a little further. No need to talk. Let’s just enjoy the morning air, and think about where we go from here.

Nigel Carter

I Have Known You

Luke 24: 13 – 35

They walked, they talked,
but they didn’t know you.
Like many a glum faced theologian of our times,
downcast, they discussed, they debated,
but they didn’t know you.

You came,
you joined,
you walked,
you taught,
they listened,
they probably asked,
sought clarification, lineage, connections, explanations.
You made clear, drew lines, linked events, revealed truth.
Their hearts burned within them,
but they didn’t know you.

They offered you hospitality,
You hesitated, agreed
and then
they saw you, knew you
in the blessing,
in the breaking of bread,
in the breaking of bread!

My heart doesn’t burn often Lord,
not in the way it should do anyway.

Many times you have walked with me,
held my hand,
carried me even;
but do I really know you?
does my tiny and very frail mind really comprehend you
on your immense cosmic scale?
I sincerely doubt it.

But I have experienced the heartburn of your love,
your whispering voice in the hurricane of my soul,
and I have known you,
known the falling away of scales, like cataracts of obtuseness;
I have known you,
I have known you,
In the breaking of bread.

Nigel Carter